The Benefits of using Drama in Youth Mentoring

Mentoring youth has its own benefits.  Some are personal and others are public benefits.  Many might question why consider the integration of drama and role play into youth mentoring programs.  After all, mentoring advocates have long shared the research data that proves that mentoring works.

According to the Michigan Dropout Prevention Summit of 2008, Mentoring increases the likelihood of a youth graduating high school by five times.  Mentoring programs have an impact on both youth and the communities in which operate.  Based on Mentoring in America (2005), of the 17.6 million youth who could benefit from a mentoring program, only 2.5 million actually had a formal mentoring relationship with an adult. The addition of drama could extend the impact of the mentoring program as well as involve others such as drama and theater students from local colleges or community acting troupes with potential mentors.

Mentoring youth can be delicate, awkward and difficult.  Serving as a mentor can be a strange new experience for some adults, especially when they do not understand the youth of today or their experiences.  The Michigan Dropout Prevention Summit of 2008 also states that only one third of those who mentor youth are adult males, while the greatest percentage of youth on mentoring waiting lists are young boys.  Some youth require mentoring due to their limited social skills, sexual or physical abuse at the hands of people like family members and others, and involvement with the juvenile court system.  Imagine the tough exterior image that such youth feel that they have to perpetuate as part of their own survival in rough neighborhoods, violent homes, and gang-infested schools.  These same youth can experience a miraculous personal breakthrough when mentoring programs employ a variety of methods and techniques, including drama and role play through plays, sketches and scenarios.  For example, getting male actors and directors involved in a dramatic production for a mentoring program as a fundraiser or community awareness campaign could increase the amount of male involvement that a mentoring program experiences.

Drama has an established role in various program models implemented for children, youth and adults.   Early childhood educators have long incorporated dramatic play with read aloud sessions and story time.  Anti-bullying and prevention programs use drama to show participants and attendees the drastic and devastating effects of bullying and other harmful behaviors such as substance abuse and dating violence.  Sensitivity and cultural competency training employ similar strategies such as utilizing role play in order to get trainees to develop a sense of understanding of what it means to be discriminated and oppressed due to gender, racial and other biases in the workplace.  Through the implementation of drama, these programs have been able to get participants to go beyond simply playing a role and walk in another person’s shoes momentarily with repeated effectiveness.

Drama would be a beneficial addition to most youth mentoring programs.   It would allow mentors and mentees an opportunity to shed their own personas and take on the roles and traits of different characters, expressing themselves as they play out their given roles.  Drama can serve as one of many methods to assist mentors and mentees build a relationship that is grounded and rooted in more than just an occasional meet up for pizza and catching up on the latest happenings within each other’s lives.


Mentor training would also benefit from the addition of dramatic role play.  Role play would also serve as a great technique for training mentors and volunteers as well as staff for working with youth through a mentoring program.  Experienced mentors and past mentees could assist in the development of training role play sessions, offering guidance and input on realistic and genuine scenarios.  Such an added element of mentor training should prepare mentors for what would otherwise be considered unexpected in their mentoring experience with the youth.  This additional training component can provide mentors with a simulated experience that prepares them further than reading a handbook or watching a training video on mentoring. Combined with other training components like mandatory reporting and programmatic regulations, drama can add to the mentor’s preparation to work with all types of youth.

Mentor-Mentee Role Play

Mentoring programs can benefit from the infusion of drama into their curriculum and presentations.  Drama can add another tool in the mentoring program’s toolbox.  For instance, role play between mentors and mentees could enable the mentors and mentees to switch roles to demonstrate youth perspectives on adult perceptions of youth and vice versa.  Having  mentors and mentees participate in and host an event with a short skit could not only attract the eyes of funding sources but can also serve as an opportunity to help build the skills of youth through teamwork and cooperation.

Mentor Funding Opportunities

Incorporating drama into a mentoring program can also benefit the program as a whole.  Numerous funding sources such as private foundations, local government and corporations have seen their fair share of traditional mentoring models over the years.  By adding drama to a mentoring program’s curriculum and sharing that through grant proposals and applications, the mentoring program may find themselves with a leg up on the competition.  The insertion of statistics on the usage of arts in education and mentoring could also prove beneficial, especially when quoting sources such as the National Endowment for the Arts (N.E.A.) and Americans for the Arts.  Combining those arts research and findings with the mentoring data and statistics found by the National Mentoring Partnership and the Pew Charitable Trust makes a mentoring program’s proposal stand out beyond the numbers of youth impacted and the needs statement that simply states the case for the need for more resources for mentoring.  Drama can be used to enhance a mentoring program’s resource development potential.

Simply inserting drama into a mentor program’s schedule for the sake of it will not benefit a mentoring program much.  Just like any other element of program development, drama must be integrated into a mentoring program with great care and consideration for the target population of both mentors and mentees as well as the critical issues for youth that the program seeks to address.  Mentoring program staff and administrators should evaluate and analyze models of mentoring programs that have successfully implemented drama with populations similar to the ones that are currently served by their own programs.

Keep the words of Benjamin Franklin in mind: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Get youth and their mentors more involved by using drama combined with mentoring.